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Wolverine not only firm with OSHA woes

An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at Wolverine Tube, after a worker suffered serious injuries while working on a press, made the news last week.

The public — including prospective employees of the offending company, its customers and other companies that might have safety problems — has an interest in such investigations. Publication reminds employees that they have a right to a safe work environment, and reminds employers that there are consequences of not providing one.

OSHA has a policy, though, that it will not alert the press at the start of any investigation, and it will not announce the completion of an investigation, unless the resulting fine is more than $40,000.

That means few OSHA investigations receive public attention. Rarely do OSHA fines exceed $40,000, and their amounts have little relationship to the severity of an injury.

Crane accident

Last year, for example, a man died while working a crane at Steel Related Technologies in Decatur. OSHA investigated and found that the crane had safety violations it deemed “serious.” The total fine: $6,650.

Because it was below the $40,000 amount, OSHA added the information to an online database, but did not announce the results.

Other area companies have been slapped with OSHA fines, too.

In April, OSHA fined Sexton Can Co. in Decatur $11,700 for six serious violations.

One of the largest fines in the area went to International Paper in 2004. The dollars added up because it was guilty of a repeat violation. The fine was $20,000. The year before it had been fined $12,750 for five serious violations. Shortly before that, an accident at the plant triggered an investigation leading to a pair of citations and a $9,500 penalty.

OSHA investigates only accidents resulting in a fatality or the hospitalization of three people.

Solutia last year was cited for a serious violation when a faulty valve exposed employees to the risk of chemical burns.

Also last year, OSHA cited Feralloy for serious violations after determining safety latches on its overhead cranes were missing or damaged. OSHA fined it $5,000.

Valley Rubber in Falkville received citations for nine serious violations in 2006.

In 2002, Cerro Wire and Cable was cited after OSHA determined the wire rope on a hoist was seriously damaged, including “numerous broken wires, rope distortion from wear and kinking.” Two years later, the company was cited for several other violations.

Decatur’s Automatic Screw Machine got hit for two serious violations in 2004. Hubbard & Drake was cited for a serious violation the same year.

OSHA cited Nichols Aluminum for six serious violations in 2003, for problems ranging from the condition of its trucks to chemical use to inadequate safeguards.

In 2004, Wayne Farms was cited for a serious violation.

Daikin America and Worthington Steel were cited last year for serious violations of rules requiring the communication of hazards to employees.

Contact Eric Fleischauer at eric@decaturdaily.com.

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